nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 18, 2007
Fall Forward, which is being presented as part of Sitelines 07 in association with the River to River Festival, is heartfelt, profound, inspiring theatre. It's the latest collaboration of playwright Daniel Reitz and director Daniel Talbott, whose previous works Rules of the Universe and Three Sisters received raves here on nytheatre.com. This one may be the finest work yet from these guys.
It's free, by the way, and presented at unusual times (at noon and 6pm, on a varied schedule). This is a beautiful gift from these artists and from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Partake.
It begins in the courtyard of a church (specifically, the John Street United Methodist Church, the oldest Methodist church in Manhattan, located just a couple of blocks from the site of the World Trade Center). We arrive here to discover a young man alone on a bench. He's got his sushi carryout lunch beside him, his overstuffed briefcase on the ground below, and his head buried in a Treo or Blackberry. Our time with this man, whose name we never learn, is for us that guiltiest of pleasures, eavesdropping on the privatest of business, as he alternately talks to/leaves messages for/texts his mother (with whom he will have dinner on Saturday night), his girlfriend (who is miffed that she's not going to the dinner with Mom; "It isn't that you're excluded," he tells her, " you're just not invited"), some buddies from work, and a man named Rafael who has seen his ad (and nude photo) on a website called nerve.com.
We're aware, even as we eavesdrop, of a pain gnawing at this young man, but we don't really have enough information to understand its source. We're also aware, as he stares achingly up through the canyon of tall buildings surrounding him here in the Financial Center of the Universe, that—for all his high-tech connectedness and high-stakes big-money stockbrokery dealings—he is terribly alone.
After some desultory bites at the sushi, he gathers up his stuff and walks into the church. This being site-specific theatre, we follow him. Inside, he sits in a pew close to the altar; not too far away, in another pew, is an older woman, who soon engages him in conversation. We discover that they have at least one thing in common, a sad thing: he lost his sister in 9/11, while she lost a son.
There's something else that binds the two, and that's a sense of incompleteness, of missed actualization. He asks her what she does, and she rejoins, "For money? Or for sanity?"
The gorgeous, wise truths that follow in this remarkable play—these I leave for you to discover. Reitz and Talbott fill this scene with some ineffable, spiritual, even supernatural elements; yet they punctuate it with a heart-stopping moment of pure reality that's as moving and theatrical as the final act of Our Town. That's how deep Fall Forward finally goes. This is not just a 9/11 play; not simply a play about turning points, though it is that. It is, as its title tells us, about falling and about going forward. We can only hope that its protagonist will take that latter notion to heart.
Talbott's inspiration in putting this play in and around this church is a stroke of genius. The script will work in other settings, but it belongs in this spare, quiet, meditative place, and I urge you to see it here while you can.
Finally, mention must be made of the four actors who deliver astonishing performances in this production. Joel Johnstone, last seen in the Talbott/Reitz Rules of the Universe, proves himself a sterling, sympathetic leading man here, silently showing us layers of depth and history in this unhappy young man. Jan Leslie Harding is superb as the lady he meets inside the church, just hinting at the joys and sorrows that she's reflecting on but not willing to disclose as she chats with this stranger. Rounding out the cast are Dan Imperial and Julie Kline, both excellent as two others present in the church. You'll need to see Fall Forward to find out exactly who they are.